This week Microsoft introduced its new browser, Edge, the project that had formerly been known as Project Spartan. Much has been made of its Hub feature, and the ability to add personal annotations to websites. However, these features are aimed at regular users, web designers will use the browser in quite a different way; whilst it’s unlikely that the majority of web designers will switch to Edge as their primary browser, the majority of us will be using it on a daily basis to test code. Whilst we don’t know exactly how Edge will perform until we get hands-on with it, there are some things we do know, and others that we can infer.
A change of approach
When I first saw the Edge announcement, what struck me most was the change in emphasis embodied by its logo. Brands are designed to a brief handed down from board level, and so the change of identity likely mimics similar briefs being handed down to development teams. In Internet Explorer’s logo, the ‘e’ sits motionless as the rotation occurs around it; for Microsoft, IE was literally the center of the Web, with all other technologies orbiting it. [pullquote]Microsoft no longer sees itself as the center of the Web[/pullquote] In Edge’s logo, the orbital ring has been dropped, and the rotation is now part of the ‘e’ itself; as well as being more minimal, it’s also more humble; Microsoft no longer sees itself as the center of the Web. This change indicates a shift in approach and hints at an increasing awareness of a wider set of interests, from cross-corporation cooperation, to adherance to web standards. The other notable thing about the logo is that the stroke on the ‘e’ opens up the aperture, making the character far more legible at smaller devices sizes. An indication that Microsoft has finally embraced mobile.
Even the least informed companies are aware of the growth of the mobile web, so it’s hardly surprising that Microsoft Edge is aimed squarely at the mobile market. Mobile appears to be one of the key areas to have persuaded the Microsoft board of the need for change. According to netmarketshare.com, IE has a 56% share of desktop browsing, but only a 2.05% share of the mobile browser market. A far cry from the days when the company boasted over 90% of all online traffic. We’ve been told that Edge will be the only browser pre-installed on Windows mobile devices, and will be, for the time-being, an optional download on desktops. Many businesses are slow to upgrade desktop machines — it’s truly frightening how many are still using XP — so the decision to run two browsers in parallel frees up Edge to make ground in the mobile market, whilst still allowing luddites their comfort blanket. What has not been made public is whether Edge will be available on Android or iOS devices. However, given that global Android sales are 400% that of Windows Mobile sales, it seems inevitable that in order to make inroads into the mobile market, Microsoft will have to port Edge to other platforms. An Android version is probably in the works, and an iOS version is likely to follow. What this means is that we’ll be facing not one, but three new browsers to test on. How consistent they will be, or the timescale for their introduction is unknown, probably even by Microsoft.
Evolution, not revolution
Despite Microsoft’s marketing, Edge is not a revolutionary browser, at least not as far as web designers are concerned. According to caniuse.com CSS support in Edge is roughly 6% better than IE11, exactly the same rate of progression from IE10 to IE11. The steady pace suggests that under the hood, Edge is very much IE12. [pullquote]under the hood, Edge is very much IE12[/pullquote] However Edge still only supports 75% of what Chrome offers, and there are some extremely disappointing omissions: Edge does not support the Picture element, which is central to plans to finally resolve responsive images. Thankfully there is partial support for srcset, albeit a subset of the full spec. There is partial support for the Grid Layout specification, although support is for an older spec. This seems to mimic IE’s Flexbox support, which began as support for an older spec before full support was later added. This approach seems to work for Microsoft, but it will leave us dependent on browser prefixes for some years to come. Unfortunately CSS Filters haven’t made it into the build, meaning Photoshop image effects are still dependent on Photoshop. But in keeping with the mobile push, Edge does offer support for touch events, the first Microsoft browser to do so.
Microsoft Edge is a lighter, faster browser than the unfairly maligned Internet Explorer, but most of its innovations come for users. For web designers taking Edge into account when designing and building websites, the most significant thing about Edge may be the rate at which it encourages users to abandon legacy versions of Internet Explorer. Edge’s advances don’t exceed those of the last two versions of Internet Explorer, but perhaps the change of name is the final piece of the puzzle required for web designers to accept the fact that Microsoft finally has a decent browser.
Ben Moss is Senior Editor at WebdesignerDepot. He’s designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. One of these days he’ll run a sub-4hr marathon. Say hi on Twitter.